When the 2013-14 season concluded, the Buffalo Sabres scored an NHL worst 150 goals. In fact, the next closest team was the Florida Panthers at 188 goals. It was obvious that the Sabres were in great need of goal scoring. Tim Murray addressed this July 1st, inking forward Matt Moulson to a 5 year deal, and added veteran leader Brian Gionta who is coming off a 20 goal season. Aside from free agency, the Sabres added playmaker Samson Reinhart with the 2nd overall pick in the 2014mdraft. To say the least, the Sabres roster will be dawning many new faces who can contribute on the score board in the coming seasons.
We are just less than a week away from the start of the season, so here are my forward projections for the Buffalo Sabres come opening night.
Matt Moulson – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Chris Stewart – Samson Reinhart – Brian Gionta
Cody Hodgson – Zemgus Girgensons – Marcus Foligno
Nicolas Deslauriers – Cody McCormick – Torrey Mitchell
On the fringe: Mikhail Grigorenko, Brian Flynn, Zac Dalpe, Patrick Kaleta, Johan Larsson
The Sabres first line is by far their most skilled line. During Matt Moulson’s short stint in Buffalo, he showed instant chemistry with Tyler Ennis. If inconsistent forward Drew Stafford can perform like he did the second half of last year, the Sabres will have themselves a decent top line. It’s realistic to expect both Stafford and Moulson to bury 25 goals with Ennis feeding them the puck.
The second line for the Sabres is very interesting to say the least. If Chris Stewart is still with the Sabres come opening night, he will find himself on the second line after an impressive preseason. Rookie Samson Reinhart will make the roster as the second line centre. He will get a 9 game try-out before the Sabres determine if he is NHL ready or not. If they deem he is ready, than he will stay with the big club; however, if he is sent down, he will return to the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. Newcomer Brian Gionta will really help Reinhart transition at the NHL level, and be a great leader for a young team.
The third line for the Sabres will have some scoring ability, and many teams will fear playing against them. Both Zemgus Girgensons and Marcus Foligno are extremely difficult to play against in the corners, as they always take the body and will punish opposing defenseman who gets in their tracks. Moving to the wing will really help Cody Hodgson improve his defensive zone play. Hodgson will also have more scoring chances playing on a line with Girgensons and Foligno.
The Sabres fourth line possesses lots of size and grit, as both Nicolas Deslauriers and Cody McCormick have proven to be physical presences in the NHL. Torrey Mitchell adds speed to the top line, and can convert scoring chances if given the opportunity.
There are some players who are on the fringe when it comes to making the roster. Forwards Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson are both injured and will not be ready to play come opening night. Bryan Flynn hasn’t made the biggest impact in the preseason and will be sent down to Rochester if he clears waivers. Zac Dalpe who the Sabres brought over from Vancouver, has really impressed Ted Nolan and the coaching staff, may find himself as the first player to be called up if an injury or demotion were to occur. The final player on the bubble who has been a pleasant surprise in camp is Mikhail Grigorenko. After an offseason of hard training, Grigorenko showed lots of promise this preseason. It will be hard for the Sabres coached not to put Grigorenko on the opening night roster; however, it will benefit him more if he starts the year in the AHL before playing full-time in the NHL.
It won’t be long until Ted Nolan makes the final cuts and the Sabres opening night roster is revealed. It is quite obvious that the Sabres have made substantial improvement with their forwards in comparison to last year. Buffalo will be a more high scoring team, and will play a very physical game on a night to night basis. With all the changes made to the Sabres roster, one may ask the question: are the Sabres a playoff team?